Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dream Kitchen

My first real morning in my new kitchen left me at loose ends.  I've dreamed of this kitchen for years, doing so while I've spent long, pleasant evenings putting together meals in tiny working areas, with dingy appliances long past their prime, cabinets with worn paint and configurations unsuited to storing anything taller than a salt shaker.  I've thought about it intently as I contended with possum infestations and rustling behind my cabinets while I cooked, read, worked and wrote, still basically living in this room, a sloppy addition with multiple drafts and ancient, crumbling window frames.  With all these flaws, the room was still my favorite in the house.

Now, just renovated, the new space has sleek new appliances--putting my mustard-colored French kettle on the gas range when I first get out of bed is a deep pleasure; after years of rickety electric stoves down to one element, the satisfying click and fire of the burner and the momentary scent of methane seems so proper, civilized, exactly the right way to make a cup of tea--and cabinets of a very particular gray.  I lost sleep over details and am pleased that I did.  For the first time in my adult life, I have everything I need.  Not a chef's kitchen, but a cook's kitchen and a warm, comfortable place to eat what is prepared.

Mark Bittman has written that good cooks can pull together a meal with very few implements.  Over  nine weeks of renovations, I reminded myself of that daily. I don't enjoy takeout and like restaurants to be a treat.  For most of my adult life, I've cooked an evening meal every day, even late at night and especially when I am on my own.  Chopping ingredients, the hiss of olive oil in the pan, the smell of garlic cooking, a glass of wine at the ready: these are the signs that my workday is winding down.  In anticipation of these weeks, T insisted we get a grill, and I used it most days, along with my big chopping block and a single Wusthof knife, whisking together my salad dressing on a big library table in the family room adjacent to the deck.  One unseasonably cool day in July, I made a beef stew in the crockpot, which sat simmering near the television.

During the demolition phases of the project, I escaped to California.  The two-hour time difference, combined with the gulls announcing the sunrise over the San Francisco Bay, mean I creep out to T's kitchen long before he does.  There, too, I make my tea and sit at the counter and answer correspondence and learn the news of the day.  On Saturdays, we walk to the Ferry Building and buy such wonderful things, Mary's Organic Chicken, Hog Island Oysters, dreamy local produce. On the Fourth of July, we sat on the balcony, grilled up a couple of steaks and split a bottle of Pinot Noir while looking at the Bay Bridge and catching glimpses of fireworks.  The day before, our contractor in Texas sent us pictures of the dead rat behind the old cabinets. 

For the next few weeks, I walked around plastic and dust and in the evenings barricaded myself in the newly-painted bedroom, trying to ignore the chaos outside.  I chastised myself for complaining about the mess, reminding myself of curling linoleum and old formica countertops with blistering corners that left holes in the front of my shirts.  This, I told my inner brat, was a rich person's problem.

In mid-August, we returned from a vacation to the Outer Banks to find the project complete.  T and I had been together, with family, for a full two weeks, the longest single visit we'd had together.  We spent the weekend in Fort Worth before he headed back to the Bay Area. We cleaned and organized, cooked and ate and drank, absorbing what the new space means to us and excited about being together here. Then I took him to the train station and we were back on our parallel tracks.

When I became single again at forty, Sundays were my favorite days to be on my own, once I made my own peace with being without the kids on alternate weekends. An only child, I learned early on to enjoy my own company, and it didn't feel unusual to face time by myself. Waking up was leisurely, and I savored those early hours, knowing the day lay ahead of me to do whatever I wished with it--walking the dog, reading, and certainly cooking a meal. 

So this past Sunday felt like my first real day here.  I sat in the lovely, quiet space and gazed out the new window at my favorite view, the tree in the front yard.  The students who raced up and down the street the day before were all still hungover in bed.  The cardinal who visits sometimes alighted on a lower branch, and I sipped my tea, finishing Kate Christensen's wonderful Blue Plate Special, a memoir I'd been reading.  It should have been a moment of pure contentment.  But it wasn't. 

Being alone now isn't the same as it used to be.  I've grown accustomed to the warmth of companionship and the pleasure of shared routines, and it has robbed me of my lifelong pleasure in being solitary. Christensen's last chapters conjured up a kind of homesickness for me when she wrote of finding real love and the joys of compatibility: "Real happiness is simple.  Simple as dirt."

Naturally, I was petulant with T on the phone later that day. 

But that evening my daughter dropped by unexpectedly with her new boyfriend, and I was delighted by the visit.  I made a good soup and tidied up after dinner, the order giving me satisfaction.  My son was coming back on Monday, an event I always look forward to. 

The next evening, T and I talked, and he remarked that I'd been out of sorts the day before.  It's okay, I said.  I was just lonely. 

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